Unemployment Crisis Leaves Thousands of Rhode Island Workers Without Benefits

A Rhode Island investigation revealed that the state’s unemployment insurance system could be broken.  Massive layoffs during and after the recession have left thousands of Rhode Islanders reliant on unemployment benefits; however, the checks are weeks and in some cases months behind schedule.  People have called the Department of Labor and Training (DLT) seeking answers but have been unable to get through, and without the money have fallen behind on their bills.

The recession was particularly hard for Rhode Island as it left the state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.  The DLT also faced widespread layoffs, and this left the department – which handles unemployment claims – without the staff to take calls from concerned recipients.  The DLT announced earlier in the week that 11 of their laid off workers would be rehired, but workers say they are still unable to get the answers they need.
 
Stephanie Valdez was recently laid off but hasn’t received her benefits.  She says she called the DLT 165 times in one day trying to get answers to her questions.
 
“Every one of us needs help.  We can't tap into the money we put in the system.  It's ridiculous.”

Karen Ingraham says she is still entitled to her unemployment benefits, but a computer error accidentally took her name off the list.  She says she has called the DLT every day and never gotten beyond a recorded message – without answers, she finds herself facing foreclosure.

“This is the first time I was wondering, am I actually going to be able to make this mortgage payment?  Or am I going to lose this house?”

There are thousands of other workers unable to access their unemployment benefits.  Many workers say they spend eight hours each day trying to get through to a representative of the DLT rather than a recording.  DLT Director Charles Fogarty was asked if the system is actually broken, and admits the system isn’t what it needs to be.
 
“I have people that come up to me after church on Sunday, at the post office with their stories.  I understand how frustrating it can be.  I want them to know that we are doing everything we can to turn it around as quickly as we can.”

Unfortunately for many Rhode Island workers, time is not on their side.